Presentation Sisters prove:You’ve gotta have heart
In late August 2005, the North American Conference of Presentation Sisters missioned five Presentation Sisters to come to New Orleans to work among the poor. I was one of the five.
On Aug. 28, 2005, God stepped in and changed a lot of things.
We returned to New Orleans permanently on Oct. 18, 2005. We lived in Uptown, thanks to the Vincentian Fathers, who let us live in their empty retirement house.
In St. Joseph Church’s parking lot was the damaged “Feed Jesus” trailer. This became our ”headquarters” to work from. It took a long time to clean it up. The people in the surrounding neighborhood who were returning to their damaged – and, in some cases, destroyed – homes gave us heart.
Our first ministry was a “coffee wagon” – our car. We took it out each morning with coffee, made at home, (no electricity at work yet) and a few cookies or a cake that we had bought with the money people had sent us.
One day in late October, two of the Sisters, Vera and Beth, returned to the trailer after the coffee run with their arms filled with bright yellow sunflowers. What a sign of hope in the midst of devastation! The waters of Katrina had shaken loose the seeds from some pre-Katrina sunflowers and sown them in many unusual places. This filled our hearts with hope.
As more of the homeless began to return to the city we realized they needed to be fed. At first it was very simple – a sandwich, a drink and a treat. We served from two folding tables. A line was formed between the church and the trailer. Volunteers began to return to the city and new vol- unteers came to help. Hearts were touched.
A miracle occurred in 2006-07. Plans were started to build a Rebuild Center in the parking lot of St. Joseph Church. Many people from near and far opened their hearts and their pocketbooks.
The Rebuild Center at St. Joseph’s is a collaborative endeavor: 1. Jesuit Church, Immaculate Conception, the Harry Tompson Center; 2. Presentation Sisters, Lantern Light; 3. The Vincentian community, St. Joseph Church; and 4. The Hispanic Apostolate of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese (for the first few years).
The Rebuild Center opened on Sept. 11, 2007.
Since then many things have changed. We serve a meal each day to between 170 and 240 guests, Monday through Friday. Our guests are male and female, from many cultures, young and old, healthy and sick, and from many back- grounds and professions.
Many days after lunch the guests will say, “Thank you for lunch. It was delicious.” I have always found that their spirituality is much deeper than I could ever hope mine to be. Frequently I have heard them say, “I’m so grateful that God woke me up today.”
Most of our guests carry their belongings in small back- packs. Let me share the following brief story with you as to what they treasure most:
One day it was my responsibility to close the center. I made the announcement over the PA system, “The center is closing in five minutes.” I waited at the gate for a few stragglers. I looked up and saw R.J. meandering down the ramp toward me. R.J. appears to be mentally ill. He looks somewhat disheveled, but he is always clean and very pleasant. That day when he passed me as he went through the gate, he appeared to be talking to himself. When he got out on to the sidewalk, he turned and looked back at me with a loving smile and said, “Sister Enid, I give you my heart.”
R.J.’s treasure is his heart.
If I have learned anything here in New Orleans in these past 10 years, it is this: YOU’VE GOTTA HAVE HEART!
Presentation Sister Enid Storey is on the ministry staff at the Rebuild Center.